Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Four JABBS Posts Nominated For 2005 Koufax Awards

JABBS is honored to announce that four of its articles are nominees for a 2005 Koufax Award for "Best Post." The award is the political bloggers' equivalent of an Academy Award.

The JABBS posts, among 222 nominees, are:

-- McClellan Misrepresents Bush's Words, Creating Dig At War Critics

-- Conservatives Love to Discuss Mythical "Angry Left," But Rarely Refer to Actual "Angry Right"

-- Why Didn't Bush Discuss Hurricane Relief From The "Western White House"?

-- Russert Fails To Ask Chertoff Relevant Follow-Up Questions on Homeland Security

***

Last week, JABBS was nominated for the category, "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition."

Award winners are chosen by popular vote. Voting hasn't begun, although you are open to review the nominees, or post your thoughts at this open thread.

Thanks to those who nominated JABBS.

Democrats Need To Respond To Rove's Latest Empty Spin

JABBS doesn't often link to opinion pieces -- better to let the facts speak for themselves -- but readers should take a close look at the Jan. 29 piece in the Los Angeles Times, from New Republic Senior Editor Jonathan Chait, about the latest empty conservative spin offered by White House Senior Advisor Karl Rove.

"Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world and Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world," asserted Rove in a Jan. 20 speech.

Chait suggests this will be the "main GOP theme for the 2006 elections." Any Democrat running for re-election this fall, or planning a presidential run in 2008, needs to understand the arsenal Rove and his minions will use, and respond accordingly.

The defense Chait provides is a good place to start.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Feingold Charges That Gonzales "Was Not Being Straight" During Confirmation Hearing

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he dodged a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

In a letter to Gonzales, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January, 2005.

Readers may recall that JABBS asked a similar question last month.

The question remains: Given his role in circumventing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, did Gonzales commit perjury during his confirmation hearing?

The Alternate Universe of Tom DeLay

In tonight's edition of MSNBC's Hardball, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) told host Chris Matthews that his constituents have been “very, very supportive.”

A Jan. 19 Houston Chronicle poll, however, suggests otherwise:

"A criminal indictment and continuing investigations have severely eroded support for U.S. Rep Tom DeLay in his district… Only half of those who cast ballots for DeLay in 2004 said they will do so again. ... DeLay may be able to win back the undecided voters, but he starts with the disadvantage of a 60 percent unfavorable rating in the district he has represented for 20 years. Only 28 percent view him favorably, according to the poll."

Responding to the poll, DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty told the Chronicle that the result is "contrary to the strong support we're seeing for Congressman DeLay throughout the district."

At best, this is transparent spin. At worst, DeLay may be suffering from delusions of grandeur. Maybe his buddy Jack Abramoff can arrange some R&R in the Mariana Islands?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Frist Implies He Trusted Discredited Doctor When Diagnosing Schiavo Via Video

When Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) tried to diagnose Terri Schiavo from an hour's worth of videotape -- saying that "footage, to me, depicted something very different than persistent vegetative state" -- the conventional wisdom was that he was looking at the famous images of Schiavo smiling and seemingly responding to family members.

But today, on NBC's Meet the Press, viewers learned that Frist based his opinion on "court-appointed video by a board certified neurologist who came to the conclusion that she was not in a persistent vegetative state."

That neurologist was almost certainly Dr. William Hammesfahr.

JABBS readers should be very familiar with how the conservative media used Hammesfahr to try to present the "other side of the story."

Viewers of several conservative shows -- MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club -- were not told that Hammesfahr's testimony was discredited by multiple courts for failing to back up his claims with actual facts. For example, a 2003 article in the St. Petersburg Times said that video supplied to Florida Circuit Judge George Greer showed Hammesfahr giving Schiavo 105 commands and 61 questions. The court reported it could not determine whether Schiavo's responses were more than random motions.

Was that the video that Frist watched?

The conservative media pushed Hammesfahr -- even falsely claiming he was a "Noble Prize nominee" -- to rally the troops against all the things it hates: the dreaded "liberal media," and those "liberal activist judges."

As a heart surgeon, Frist should have done his homework before trying to diagnose Schiavo via video. He should have spoken to her doctors. He should have been briefed that Hammesfahr's testimony had been discredited.

As a legislator, Frist should have known that 10 courts and 19 judges sided with Schiavo's husband and upheld Florida law. He should have known that as governor of Texas, President Bush signed the 1999 Advance Directives Act, which allows a patient's surrogate to make end-of-life decisions -- and is consistent with the current Florida law.

Sadly, Frist did what a lot of conservative politicians did during the Schiavo ordeal -- ignore facts, ignore legal precedents and ignore science, and instead kowtow to their base and the loud voice of the Religious Right.

Today, long after an autopsy proved Schiavo's doctors and husband were correct, and that Hammesfahr was wrong, Frist relied on the same empty conservative spin today to defend his actions.

Here's a portion of the interview with NBC's Tim Russert:

FRIST: ... Now, the video footage that I looked at, it wasn’t what you saw on TV, it was court-appointed video by a board certified neurologist who came to the conclusion that she was not in a persistent vegetative state.

RUSSERT: But, Senator, you will acknowledge that people who looked at this believed, suggested that you were trying to diagnose from your office, that the Senate was kept in session over the weekend. The president flew back from his ranch. For something that happens a thousand times a day, in terms of removing tubes, and ... (a)nd that this was used in a way to exploit politics and to play to the conservative base of the Republican Party. ... Do you regret going to the floor of the Senate and saying, “I watched the videotape and that’s not a persistent vegetative state.”

FRIST: No, I don’t. I’m a physician. I was watching a board-certified neurologist...

RUSSERT: Were you wrong in your diagnosis?

FRIST: I didn’t make the diagnosis. I raised the question of whether or not she’s in a persistent vegetative state. ...

RUSSERT: No regrets?

FRIST: Well, I’ll tell you what I learned from it, which is obvious, is that the American people don’t want you involved in these decisions. ...

Well, at least Frist has learned one thing from this embarrassing time in his Senatorial career.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

"Intelligent Design" Proponents Lose Battles In School Districts In Four States

Hillsborough County, Fla., science teachers last week voted to use biology textbooks that doesn't mention intelligent design.

Nancy Marsh, the district's high school science supervisor, told the Tampa Tribune that teachers based their decision on which book would best meet state science standards. Science supervisors in nearby Pasco and Pinellas counties don't expect intelligent design will become an issue for them either when they choose their science textbooks next month.

It's the latest blow for supporters of the controversial belief, which argues that a higher being designed the complex universe. The belief has been championed by conservative Christian leaders as an alternative to evolutionary theory worthy of being taught in public schools. But it has been fought by supporters of separation of church and state, who see intelligent design as a thinly veiled way to teach religion in public schools.

How thinly veiled? "I believe this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach," wrote teacher Sharon Lemburg, whose "Philosophy of Design" class was shut down by El Tejon Unified School District in California earlier this month.

The school district chose to cancel the philosophy course rather than face a lawsuit from parents. The suit was brought forth because the class relied almost exclusively on videos that presented religious theories as scientific ones, including titles such as "Chemicals to Living Cells: Fantasy or Science?" and "Astronomy and the Bible," according to the suit. Lemburg is the wife of an Assembly of God minister.

"This sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class," Ayesha N. Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Associated Press. The group had filed the suit on behalf of 11 parents.

Last month, Americans United participated in a lawsuit that blocked the Dover, Pa., school system from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that school board members’ true motive in approving the intelligent-design policy was to promote religion.

And a federal judge recently ruled that it was unconstitutional for Cobb County, Georgia, to require the placement of stickers in biology textbooks, reading: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

That decision is currently under review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The next battlefronts are Kansas and Michigan. Can science continue to trump thinly veiled religious belief? For the sake of the public school kids, let's hope so.

Bush Administration Remains Woefully Inconsistent When Considering First Amendment Rights

Can you yell fire in a crowded theater and get away with it?

If the Bush Administration was deciding, it would likely depend on whether you were a liberal or a conservative.

Universal Press Syndicate columnist Ann Coulter "joked" during a Thursday speech that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

And by all accounts, no action was taken against Coulter, save for a smattering of boos from the audience.

Christian conservative leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson declared a fatwa on Aug. 22, calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said of Chávez on his show, The 700 Club. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Robertson first lied about what he said, claiming the Associated Press "misrepresented" his words. He later apologized. And again, by all accounts, no action was taken against him.

Now, JABBS is completely in favor of free speech. A favorite movie moment is the speech given by Michael Douglas' character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:

DOUGLAS: America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

And JABBS has to assume that the Bush Administration feels the same way -- even if Douglas' character was an obvious Democrat.

Coulter? She was joking. Robertson? He quickly apologized. Right?

If it were that simple, there wouldn't be much to discuss. The problem is that the Bush Administration has been woefully inconsistent in how it views First Amendment rights. Strangely, while a public call for the murder of a Supreme Court Justice or the assassination of a foreign leader go seemingly unchecked, other lesser demonstrations of free speech have led the administration to take action.

Consider these examples:

A married couple was removed from a Bush presidential campaign event in West Virginia in the summer of 2004 after revealing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited later in the year by the Secret Service for an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car. Last spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head. The military is shutting down some soldiers' blogs it says reveal sensitive information about the Iraq War; others claim the military's real goal is censorship.

In the face of such perceived inconsistency, it seems fair to ask whether the Bush Administration puts party before country when considering first amendment rights.

JABBS doesn't expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.

***

Perhaps this perceived inconsistency between how the Bush Administration treats the far right-wing and far left-wing isn't isolated.

Consider that a Homeland Security report from last year, “Integrated Planning Guidance, Fiscal Years 2005-2011,” does not list fringe right domestic terrorists. It does list those associated with the fringe left.

Fringe left groups such as Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are listed as terrorist threats. Anti-government groups, white supremecists and other fringe right movements -- many of which have actually staged terrorist attacks -- are absent.

No one should deny the fact that fringe left groups, such as the two named above, have been responsible for terror attacks, leading to deaths in a handful of states. But even the department acknowledges their efforts are designed to damage property, not kill people. To not include the fringe right movements -- which have been convicted over and over of attempting, and sometimes succeeding, in killing people -- is both partisan politics and, frankly, incompetence.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Deficit Reduction Under Bush? New Numbers Suggest Administration Should Scratch That From List of "Accomplishments"

The federal budget deficit will likely be at least $337 billion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That's up from $319 billion in 2005, following a record $412 billion in 2004.

And the $337 billion figure is likely understating what the real deficit will be this year. The White House Budget Office is projecting the number will top $400 billion, with the difference coming from costs related to Hurricane Katrina.

But the number could go even higher than that, if other emergency spending measures have to be undertaken. In 2005, the Bush Administration asked for $10.5 billion of emergency spending for Hurricane Katrina and $82 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

So can the Bush Administration claim it is conquering the budget deficit? Amazingly, it was just last month that the White House released a "fact sheet" listing the Bush Administration's "accomplishments," including "We Remain On Track To Cut The Budget Deficit In Half By 2009."

That goal seems far-fetched -- the CBO estimate for 2006-2010 has Bush missing. But of course, by 2009 Bush will have left office.

How out of control is the deficit? As JABBS wrote earlier this month, the White House will soon ask Congress to raise the government's debt ceiling, now capped at $8.18 trillion. It will be the fourth time in five years that the administration will seek to increase the debt limit.

Remember, Republicans are the "fiscally conservative" party.

Should Your Kids Drink The Water? Bush's EPA Doesn't Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to force states to collect and report required data on lead levels in drinking water and has little information on schools and child-care facilities, according to a recently released government study.

The Government Accountability Office study found that the EPA's database lacks some information on more than 70 percent of the nation's water systems. In addition to broadly improving data collection and communication among local, state and federal agencies, it recommended more information be collected on the water in schools and child-care facilities, few of which test for lead, according to the findings.

Benjamin H. Grumbles, who oversees the EPA's Office of Water, said through a spokeswoman Wednesday that the federal Lead and Copper Rule has been effective in keeping lead levels below federal limits in 96 percent of the nation's large water systems.

It's a nice statistic, but 96% of how many water systems? How can we know what's safe and what's not, if we don't have sufficient data?

Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-VT), one of three congressmen to request the GAO study, said the EPA needed to continue to improve its oversight and implementation.

"This GAO report confirms that there are large holes in federal safe drinking water regulations, Jeffords said in a written statement. "The EPA has failed to act in a meaningful way to plug these gaps, even after the drinking water in the nation's capital was 'off-limits' for months."

Jeffords has offered legislation that would create stricter oversight, but the legislation has failed to gain traction in the Republican-led Congress.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Robertson's Charity Has Been Big Winner Under Bush

Under President Bush, conservative Christian leader Pat Robertson’s international “charity” Operation Blessing has increased its annual revenue from government grants from $108,000 to $14.4 million.

Ironically, Robertson expressed public misgivings about the Bush Administration's "faith-based initiatives" back in 2001. “I really don’t know what to do,” Robertson told viewers of his TV show, The 700 Club. “But this thing could be a real Pandora’s box. …What seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations as well as the federal government. And I’m a little concerned about it, frankly.”

Guess he had a change of heart.

***

Why should you be concerned that your tax dollars are helping to fund Robertson's charity?

Consider that Operation Blessing has come under fire for questionable activities:

QUESTION MARK ONE: In the late 1990s, it was learned that Operation Blessing was diverting its medical missionary planes in Africa in order to pick up equipment for Pat Robertson's gold mining operations in Zaire. Robertson refunded the charity out of his own pocket, supposedly to avoid prosecution.

QUESTION MARK TWO: Operation Blessing practices discriminatory hiring -- it only hires Christians. (That's not liberal speculation. It was confirmed last week by Deborah Bensen, the charity's director of media and government relations.)

QUESTION MARK THREE: All grantees are required to follow guidelines that say federal money must not be used for “inherently religious activities." But that's a gray area. Operation Blessing provided money for a refrigerated trailer and computers for Lighthouse Mission on Long Island, New York, which proclaims on its Web site. “Through the love of God, the volunteers at the Mission help people in need on a daily basis through prayer and God’s Word.”

Doesn't that mean federal money is being used for "inherently religious acitivities"? Operation Blessing says no. Others say yes.

The Bush Administration? It apparently has no plans to investigate, perhaps because it doesn't want to upset its large conservative Christian base.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Fact-Challenged, Spin-Filled, Easily Debunkable Universe of Scott McClellan

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan continued the Bush Administration's efforts to spin its circumvension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in a contentious press conference today.

The act says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance. (President Bush acknowledged as much three times on the campaign trail last year.) The Justice Department issued a 42-page defense of President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program, arguing that the Supreme Court agreed with the administration that it was correct to assume that detention of suspected terrorists was allowable, even though the word "detention" does not appear in the post-9/11 Congressional Authorization For Use Of Military Force. Therefore, the administration is correct to assume it can conduct surveillance of telephone calls between domestic and foreign locations, even though that is not expressed in the congressional authorization.

The leap of logic, of course, is that the Bush Administration received court approval in the earlier example. It sought no such approval now. So while it assumed that it was operating legally, it has no proof of that. And there's a long list of people -- including at least 11 Republican Senators and several prominent conservatives -- who question the rationale.

But why should such things get in the way of today's press conference? The Bush Administration has a nifty, Orwellian title for their action -- calling it a "terrorist surveillance program" -- and McClellan's job today was to get that name out there, and to continue to suggest it's a "limited" program, involving "international" calls, points that have been disputed.

Realize that since the surveillance program became known by the public, the Bush Administration has offered a myriad of excuses, many of which have been debunked. The Republican National Committee falsely said that the Carter and Cllnton Administrations circumvented FISA -- a charge that was debunked, but which McClellan refers to again today. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that Congress wouldn't have supported amending FISA to include the administration's "data mining" plans -- alluded to today by McClellan -- even though the assertion was later disputed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The Administration continues to say that it has briefed members of Congress, who approved the process. Yet, various senators have said that they were either misinformed at the time about what the administration wanted to do, or not given a chance to express disapproval with the plan.

If the administration's case was so strong, why do they have to keep changing it, and why has it been so easy to debunk their various arguments?

That question wasn't asked at today's press conference. But here's a key exchange that gives you an idea of how McClellan works. He gets his talking points out, but what about the reporter's question? Duck, dodge and weave, and not much more.

Q Scott, Senator Specter sent the Attorney General a list of questions that he was going -- planned to ask at the hearing about the NSA surveillance program. And one of the questions he asked is, would you consider seeking approval from the FISA court at this time for the ongoing surveillance program. Is that something the administration is thinking about?

McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention a couple of things. One, first of all, let me just say I know the Attorney General looks forward to participating in next week's hearing. Or it's actually -- I guess, it's the following week, February 6th. The Attorney General looks forward to talking with the committee and with congressional leaders about the legal justification for this program. This is a terrorist surveillance program. We are a nation engaged in war. It is a limited, targeted program aimed at al Qaeda communications. There has to be an international component to it, so we're talking about international communications. And it has one sole purpose; that is to detect and prevent attacks.

We've already talked about the FISA court. That is a very important tool, as well, and we make very good use of the FISA tool. But FISA was created in a different time period for longer-term monitoring. This program is for a shorter period of time aimed at detection and prevention. And so that's what it's focus is.

And I think we have to step back and remember that -- and I think the Attorney General talked about this in his remarks yesterday -- there is a longtime tradition in war of engaging in surveillance of the enemy. That's what this is. We are a nation at war, and there is an enemy that is deadly and determined to strike us again and inflict even greater damage. And we saw the problem highlighted in the 9/11 Commission report when we learned too late about communications that were taking place from two hijackers that were in the United States talking to people outside the United States. That's the kind of problem this is designed to detect, and then be able to act and prevent attacks. It's about connecting the dots. That's what the 9/11 Commission said we need to do.

So the President not only had the authority to do what he's doing, but he has the responsibility to do what he is doing, because it's about saving lives. It's about preventing attacks. It's very limited in nature, and it's focused on international communications involving al Qaeda members or affiliated terrorist organizations from either communicating inside the United States to someone outside, or communicating from outside the United States to someone inside. And I think the American people expect us to do everything within our lawful power to protect them. And the President made it very clear that as long as he is President, he will continue acting to do everything he can within his powers and within the law to protect the American people. But we work very closely with Congress. We have briefed members of Congress on this vital tool over the course of the law few years, and we'll continue to work closely with Congress.

Q I think that -- I mean, the way I read this question, he's asking, will you ask the FISA court for approval of this program -- not specific instances, but will you ask the FISA court if this is -- if this program, the overall program, is sanctioned under the law. And that's the --

McCLELLAN: Well, if the FISA court wants to talk any more about any communications that they have had with administration officials, that's up to them. It is a highly classified court, for good reasons.

Q They won't talk about it.

McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I leave it up to them. If there's anything more they want to say, then I would leave it up to them.

Q Can I just follow on this point, because let's be clear about a couple of things. First of all, the President argues, asserts, that he has the power to unilaterally authorize this wiretapping, okay? It's not -- he doesn't have the monopoly on the truth of how --

McCLELLAN: The courts have upheld it and previous administrations have asserted it, as well.

Q Well, that was different, and that is, again -- this is your position --

McCLELLAN: Same authority. Same authority, David.

Q -- that's in dispute.

McCLELLAN: No, that's not -- hang on -- that's not in dispute. And look at the Associate Attorney General under the Clinton administration. The courts have upheld this authority in the past. Look at the federal courts. The President talked about it and we provided it in a document. So that's wrong.

Q No, I don't think that's wrong, and we can go into that, but I don't -- our time is not best spent doing that.

McCLELLAN: That the courts haven't upheld it?

Q My question is, instead of spending time trying to fine-tune the rhetoric over what you want to call this program for political purposes, why not seek to amend FISA so that it can better suit your purposes, which is another thing the previous administration did when it wasn't considered to be agile enough? So why not, if you want the program to be more responsive, to be more agile, why not seek to amend FISA?

McCLELLAN: Let's look at a practical example. Do you expect our commanders, in a time of war, to go to a court while they're trying to surveil the enemy? I don't think so. This is a time of war. This is about wartime surveillance of the enemy. That's what this is about. And we don't ask our commanders to go to the court and ask for approval while they're trying to gain intelligence on the enemy. So I think that's a real practical term to look at it in when you're talking about this issue, because that's what this is about.

Q There's no way to amend --

McCLELLAN: Well, no, let me back up, because I talked about this the last couple days. I mean, it's a very good question and an important question. FISA is an important tool. We use it. General Hayden talked about that. When we were briefing members of Congress over the course of the last few years -- I think it was more recently, over, maybe, the last couple years -- I think the Attorney General talked about it -- we talked with congressional leaders, bipartisan congressional leaders, about this very issue: Should we go and get legislation that would reflect the authority the President already has? And those leaders felt that it could compromise our national security interest and this program if we were to go and get legislation passed. Because we don't want to let the enemy know about our play book, and the more you talk about this program, the more potential it has to harm our national security interest. That's why we don't get into talking about the operational aspects about it.

But it is important for the American people to understand exactly what this program is and how limited it is and what its purpose is. There's been some misrepresentations. Now, with that said, as I pointed out, we work very closely with Congress. We'll continue to work closely with Congress as we move forward. But the President has the authority and the responsibility to do what he's doing and he's going to keep doing it.

***

The way McClellan spins it, the administration has done nothing but try to protect the American people from terrorists. But ask yourself, if the administration is willing to skirt the law -- and then come up with a myriad of easily debunked excuses to defend itself -- what other rules will it overlook and what other civil liberties will it violate, all under the heading of presidential "authority."

Can American Idol Teach Us About (Conservative) Human Nature?

Can the singers auditioning for Fox's American Idol teach us about (conservative) human nature?

Watch the auditions, and undoubtedly you will see earnest twentysomethings who really, truly believe that they can be the show's next big star. And they really, truly cannot sing. Notes flat as a pancake or sharp as an elbow to the eye. No rhthym.

They plead with judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson: I know I can sing!

Their proof? They've been told by biased sources. Their mother says so. Their friends say so. The drunks at the local bar's karaoke contest say so. They've seen today's popular singers, and they know that they have just as good a voice, are just as attractive, can dance just as well, have just as much stage presence.

Except they're wrong.

What can this teach us about (conservative) human nature?

Listen to conservative talk radio, or read most of the conservative blogosphere, and you'll find political opinion built not on objective facts, but on more opinion.

On conservative talk radio, you are rarely presented with a basic set of objective facts, on which to build an opinion. Maybe the hosts don't trust their listeners?

What do you hear? Rants. Misinformation. Opinion based on opinion. Callers are echo chambers, saying how much they love the host and agree with everything they say. Callers who don't agree are shut out, or hung up on in mid-thought and then lambasted.

For example, on Monday's edition of Mark Levin's radio show, a liberal caller tried to ask a question about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, President Bush's circumvension of it, and Levin's defense of Bush's action.

"Don't give me your talking points!" Levin yelled, then started a rant about how liberals don't "get it." How sad that Levin's argument is so weak that it can't withstand testing from a caller's question. Facts? Who needs facts when you have opinion?

It reminds me of the Billy Joel song, Everybody Loves You Now.

Close your eyes when you don't want to see
Stay at home when you don't want to go
Only speak to those who will agree
Yeah, and close your mind when you don't want to know

Maybe someone should sing that on American Idol!

Similarly, you find unattributed opinion on most conservative blogs -- comments such as "We all know how (fill in the name of a hated liberal) thinks." Sweeping false statements about how liberals are "un-American," "anti-troop," or "hate Bush." When there is attribution, it most often is to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or other conservative talk radio hosts, Charles Krauthammer, Byron York or Bill Kristol editorials, something written in a conservative magazine, the Washington Times or New York Post, or transcripts of what President Bush, Vice President Cheney or their spokesmen say.

Conservatives no doubt will respond: Isn't that what JABBS does? But it's not.

Yes, JABBS posts are opinionated, but they are based on what should be accepted as objective facts. JABBS posts --- to use a phrase coined by a commenter -- are "link happy," meaning that they provide access to original newspaper articles, television transcripts, congressional testimony, government reports and other sources of objective information.

You don't see JABBS repeating comments from Air America Radio or The Nation ad nauseum. It would just be JABBS' opinion of their opinion. In fact, look at JABBS' archives, and you'll find negative comments directed at Air America's Randi Rhodes and Janeane Garofalo, liberal columnist Tina Brown and Wonkette, to name a few.

In other words, you may not agree with JABBS, but accept that you have been given a chance to study the objective information leading to JABBS' opinion.

JABBS trusts its readers to decide whether to agree. The conservative "media"? Not so much. They'd rather be like those dreadful American Idol rejects -- in a bubble of agreement, free of objective fact.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

JABBS Nominated For Koufax Award

JABBS is honored to announce it has been nominated for a 2005 Koufax Award -- the political bloggers' equivalent of the Academy Awards -- for the category, "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition."

Award winners are chosen by popular vote. Voting hasn't begun, although you are open to review the nominees, or post your thoughts at this open thread.

Thanks to those who nominated JABBS.

Monday, January 23, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush, sounds like something any conservative would want to read. And few question the conservative credentials of author Fred Barnes, executive editor of the conservative magazine Weekly Standard, and a member of Brit Hume's "All Star" Panel on Fox News Channel.

So why did the Conservative Book Club not only decline to offer the Barnes volume, but also attack the book?

Rebel-in-Chief is filled with "empty puffery," writes book club Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Rubin.

Ouch. Sounds like something you'd read on JABBS.

But that's not all. According to Rubin, Barnes is too favorable toward "all those things that Bush does to drive traditional conservatives to despair" in a way that "call[s] into question his own understanding of conservatism." Additionally, "Fred Barnes isn't doing the president -- or the country -- any favors by celebrating his worst political tendencies."

How did Barnes react? As you'd expect a peddler of empty conservative spin:

"I guess they don't like Bush, or me, either," he told the Washington Post.

Right, that's it, Fred. ...

Election Officials Questioning Electronic Voting Systems' Reliability

Four times over the past year, Leon County, Fla., supervisor of elections Ion Sancho told computer specialists to break in to his electronic voting machines. And on all four occasions they did, using relatively unsophisticated hacking techniques to manipulate the machines' memory cards.

To Sancho, the results showed the vulnerability of voting equipment manufactured by Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, which is used by more than 800 jurisdictions nationwide.

Increasingly, the Washington Post reported yesterday, election officials are thinking twice before trusting electronic voting systems like Diebold's, recognizing what the Government Accountability Office said in a report to Congress last year -- that there are still pressing concerns about electronic voting systems' "security and reliability."

***

Diebold and some officials were eager to spin Sancho's experiments, saying his conclusions about the vulnerability of electronic voting systems are unfounded. A Diebold lawyer faxed Sancho in June: "We believe this to have been a very foolish and irresponsible act."

But the question election officials -- and voters themselves -- should be asking is: should corporations be dictating how democratic elections are run?

No Diebold executive -- or any other advocate of electronic voting -- has ever been able to explain the benefit of having elections without a paper trail. At least 25 states require paper ballots -- proof of how people voted -- and if more election officials acknowledged the electronic systems' vulnerability, perhaps every state would offer such voter protection.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

McCain Contradicts Key Piece Of Gonzales' Defense Of Warrantless Domestic Spying Program

Today on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Chris Wallace that he didn't think President Bush had "legal authority" to engage in warrantless domestic spying:

WALLACE: But you do not believe that currently he has the legal authority to engage in these warrant-less wiretaps.

MCCAIN: You know, I don’t think so, but why not come to Congress? We can sort this all out. I don’t think — I know of no member of Congress, frankly, who, if the administration came and said here’s why we need this capability, that they wouldn’t get it.

***

The news is not that McCain spoke out against Bush's apparent circumvension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance. McCain also spoke out against the program last month -- one of at least 11 Republican senators to question the program.

The news is that McCain contradicts a key piece of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' defense of Bush's program -- that Congress wouldn't have authorized it anyway. Gonzales, who as White House counsel approved the program, will try to defend the program in Senate testimony next month.

As Gonzales said last month: "We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get."

In other words, someone is lying.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Justice Department Offers Official Leap Of Logic On Warrantless Domestic Spying Program

The Department of Justice yesterday released a 42-page defense of President Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program.

But the defense is really just a formal and expanded version of answers Attorney General Alberto Gonzales provided at a press conference last month . And no doubt, it will be the backbone of Gonzales' testimony before the Senate next month.

Senators should be prepared -- the administration is using significant leaps in logic to justify the their circumvension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which says that the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance.

Want to understand the hoops Gonzales has to jump through to justify the illegal program? Here's the administration's arguments, in his own words:

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

The administration is well aware of FISA.

GONZALES: (T)he Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides -- requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I've just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow -- there is -- unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress. That's what the law requires.

So then ...

ADMINISTRATION LEAP OF LOGIC

GONZALES: Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.

Gonzales admits that "there's nothing in the authorization to use force that specifically mentions electronic surveillance." He also admits: "We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get."

Seems pretty cut and dry. Gonzales builds a convincing case against the administration's program. But Gonzales -- who President Bush said personally approved the surveillance program, when Gonzales was White House Counsel -- isn't relying on facts.

Instead, we get a leap of logic:

GONZALES: (T)he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word "detention." And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O'Connor agreed. ... For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.

What's the difference? The administration sought Supreme Court approval on its use of detention. It never sought any court's approval with surveillance.

In other words, just because one administration leap of logic was justified before, doesn't mean a second leap of logic will be justified now.

Why? Perhaps because it knew -- as it did when it polled members of Congress -- that the courts would not allow the administration to violate FISA.

Will senators be satisfied with the administration's case? Let's remember that various senators have said that they were either misinformed at the time about what the administration wanted to do, or not given a chance to express disapproval with the plan.

Nothing Gonzales has said -- including yesterday's Justice Department defense -- should change that.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Public figures come and public figures go and most of the time they don't leave much of an impression. But some live on in our language, like William Lynch, Charles Cunningham Boycott, Vidkun Quisling and, of course, Joseph R. McCarthy. With those examples in mind, I've often thought it was a shame that New Jersey's own Christine Todd Whitman managed to skip out of Trenton without contributing her name as a common anathema.

Reading this story about the health problems of rescue workers who helped comb through the rubble of the World Trade Center, I think we have may finally have found Christine Todd Whitman's place in the American language.After she bailed out of Trenton to take a job handling smoke and mirrors for George W. Bush at the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman's most signal achievement was to repeatedly assure New Yorkers that the air in Lower Manhattan was perfectly safe to breathe mere days after the towers came down, even as the EPA's own studies showed the environment was actually thick with airborne toxins. (By the way, here's what happened to long-term monitoring of the health and environmental impact of the WTC attack.) It's puzzling that none of this is mentioned in the Associated Press story about the health problems of people who were there in the aftermath of the terror attacks, but hey, that's journalism these days.

So, I propose that those respiratory problems stemming from exposure to the air near Ground Zero be called "Whitman lung," in honor of the good moderate Republican soldier who helped let them happen. And every time a rescue worker coughs up bits of bloody gravel, we'll call that a Republican thank-you.
-- From The Opinion Mill, Jan. 17

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bush Administration Continues To Treat Saudi Arabia Leaders Like Royalty

The Los Angeles Times reported that Saudi Arabia has still failed to crack down seriously on terrorism: "[T]he kingdom has not met its promises to help prevent the spread of terrorism or curb the flow of money from Saudis to terrorist cells around the world," U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and other officials say.

Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis to Al Qaeda and other suspected terrorist groups, aided by what the U.S. officials call Riyadh's failure to set up a government commission to police such groups as promised. Countless young terrorism suspects from Saudi Arabia flee across the porous border into Iraq.

For these same faults, countries like Syria are harshly criticized by the Bush Administration, threatened with sanctions and cut off from diplomatic relations.

Saudi Arabia's punishment? A personal visit this week from Vice President Dick Cheney.

-- Center for American Progress, Jan. 18

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In Preview Of Senate Testimony, Gonzales Provides Fact-Challenged Defense Of Domestic Spying Program To CNN

In a preview of the testimony he plans to give to the Senate next month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales spoke with CNN's Larry King yesterday, and relied on empty Bush Administration spin to defend its warrantless domestic spying program.

The administration would do well to stick to facts, rather than trying to recreate history in order to defend the program, which circumvented rules that say the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before proceeding. That includes Gonzales, who President Bush said personally approved the surveillance program, when Gonzales was White House Counsel.

It's one thing for the administration to defend the illegal program by saying that a post-9/11 world demands that the Bush White House have extraordinary surveillance capability. Unfortunately, the Bush White House desperately wants to spin Americans into accepting their fact-challenged misrepresentations as the truth.

Gonzales, referring to a speech given Monday by former Vice President Al Gore, said this:

GONZALES: I would say that with respect to comments by the former vice president it’s my understanding that during the Clinton administration there was activity regarding the physical searches without warrants, Aldrich Ames as an example. I can also say that it’s my understanding that the deputy attorney general testified before Congress that the president does have the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in physical searches without a warrant and so those would certainly seem to be inconsistent with what the former vice president was saying today.

Despite what Gonzales is implying, the Clinton administration never violated FISA and never claimed they could violate FISA. Here’s why:

-- Prior to 1995, FISA did not cover physical searches. (With Clinton’s signature, the law was expanded to cover physical searches in 1995.) The search of Aldrich Ames home occurred in 1993. It did not violate FISA.

-- Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick testified in 1994 that the President could conduct warrantless physical searches, before FISA required physical searches to be conducted pursuant to a warrant. Gorelick was arguing that the President could conduct warrantless physical searches in the absence of Congressional action. At no time did she suggest that, after Congress required the President to obtain a warrant, the executive branch could ignore the law, nor is there any evidence the Clinton administration failed to comply with FISA.

Gonzales will likely offer this same empty spin next month. Will senators be prepared to fact-check? Or will Americans be left with a "debate" -- presented as left vs. right, but in reality right vs. wrong?

***

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, speaking Tuesday, offered the same spin lines.

MCCLELLAN: In terms of Al Gore's comments, I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds. It was the Clinton administration that used warrantless physical searches. An example is what they did in the case of Aldrich Ames. And it was the Deputy Attorney General under the Clinton administration that testified before Congress and said, "First, the Department of Justice believes and the case law supports that the President has inherent authority" -- inherent authority -- "to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General."

But amazingly, some in the mainstream media are paying attention to the facts.

As the Associated Press reported Tuesday: "But at the time of the Ames search in 1993 and when Gorelick testified a year later, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act required warrants for electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes, but did not cover physical searches. The law was changed to cover physical searches in 1995 under legislation that Clinton supported and signed."

Huzzah! The press can fact-check administration spin! This doesn't have to be a partisan debate. It can just simply be a case of pointing out that the administration is wrong.

If we can all agree that it was wrong from President Clinton to have an affair with Monica Lewinsky, and furthermore wrong to lie about it thereafter, then why can't we all admit it was wrong for President Bush to sidestep FISA, and furthermore wrong for his administration to misrepresent the facts thereafter?

***

To be sure, Gonzales and McClellan aren't the only ones trying to spin the truth.

Last month, the Republican National Committee issued a press release that falsely alleged that Presidents Carter and Clinton had violated FISA. To make the claim, the RNC used sentence fragments to take presidential executive orders out of context.

The talking points got a lot of play in the conservative media -- most notably in columns by the National Review's Byron York. Listen to conservative talk radio today, and the limited coverage of domestic spying will no doubt include the RNC talking points.

But fortunately, some in the media care about facts. For example, the Washington Post debunked the RNC's misleading claims:

"The RNC quoted fragments of Clinton's Executive Order 12949, authorizing the attorney general to "approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information," and Carter's Executive Order 12139, authorizing the attorney general to 'approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order.' The Clinton and Carter orders, which were published, permitted warrantless spying only on foreigners who are not protected by the Constitution. Bush's secret directive permitted the NSA to eavesdrop on the overseas calls of U.S. citizens and permanent residents."

You have to ask yourself -- how weak is the Bush Administration's argument if it so heavily relies on misrepresentations of fact?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lott Appears Poised To Make A Run For Senate Majority Leader

Trent Lott (R-MS), said today he would seek a fourth term in November, quickly igniting speculation that he might try to return to his one-time role as Senate Majority Leader.

The post is being resigned later this year by Bill Frist (R-TN), who many speculate will seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

Others who will likely compete to replace Frist include Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Whip Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania -- although Santorum faces a tough re-election bid this fall.

This assumes, of course, that the Republicans maintain their majority after this November's elections. That seemed like a certainty a few months ago, but with President Bush's popularity hovering at about 40%, perhaps the numbers-crunchers should begin re-evaluating the situation.

For what it's worth, JABBS predicted back in October that Lott was setting himself up to be a main competitor to replace Frist, by establishing himself as an outsider in his own party -- someone unafraid to criticize President Bush.

McConnell has not created that perception. The same is true for Santorum, who nonetheless has tried of late to distance himself from Bush -- in part to woo independent Pennsylvanians currently leaning toward his Democratic rival, Robert Casey Jr.

***

Lott has been helped by soft coverage of what led him to lose his post as majority leader, both by the mainstream media and more frequently by fawning cable television talk show hosts, from Brit Hume to Chris Matthews.

The conservative noise machine will tell you that Lott didn't really do anything wrong, and that it was liberals who forced him from power. Neither charge is true.

Let's recall the facts:

At the 100th birthday party for the late Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Lott said: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

If you're not familiar with Thurmond's 1948 run as a Dixiecrat, know that Thurmond supported segregation and opposed anti-lynching legislation. At his party's convention, Thurmond said: "Ladies and gentlemen, there’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the n*gger race into our theaters, into our swimming polls, into our homes and into our churches."

President Bush said Lott's comments "do not reflect the spirit of our country," and many of Lott's Republican colleagues agreed. Barely two weeks after the remarks, Lott's fellow Republicans pushed Lott to step down, paving the way for Frist to become a national player in the party. To this day, insiders will tell you Lott and Frist don't get along because of the course of events.

Perhaps we should have known that the perception of Lott had replaced the reality of Lott when Bush made a point to mention that Lott's Mississippi home had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. As with Lott's recent personal storyline, his old house will quickly be replaced.

On The Radio In New Jersey, A Celebration Of Bush And Anti-Intellectualism

The year is still young, but we may already have a winner for most ludicrous conversation on conservative talk radio.

Yesterday, on the popular New Jersey talk station WKXW-AM, lunchtime anchors Dennis Malloy and Judy Franco had a lengthy back-and-forth celebrating President Bush's ability to overcome critics who say he "looks stupid" or who focus on his "mediocre grades" in school.

What a fantastic straw man! Bush's critics -- and with a popularity rating hovering at 40%, he has many -- are concerned with how he looks or his grades in school. There's no chance that his popularity has tumbled because of his policies and decisions as president.

The "liberals think Bush is dumb" spin might have been topical back in 2000, but Bush is about to complete his fifth year as president. Even in the alternate universe of conservative talk radio, shouldn't that count for something?

Malloy and Franco hope to rally the troops by celebrating how Bush has overcome C grades in college (although they didn't want to mention that the college was Yale University, lest any listeners think Bush spent time among dreaded "intellectuals.")

Franco, who praised Bush for being "stalwart" and "strong," added that the president's critics focus on "minutiae." Apparently, in the alternate universe of Malloy and Franco, facts are not as important as perceptions.

Keep in mind that this conversation occurred on a federal holiday, when a larger-than-normal number of students might tune in. So congratulations, future conservatives of New Jersey! You too can be a grand success if you don't look or act too smart! Don't pay attention to details, and feel good about yourself!

It's a message "anti-intellectuals" crave, I suppose.

Monday, January 16, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The leader of the House ethics committee is not committing to any investigation of misconduct despite the growing revelations about the favors that lobbyist Jack Abramoff won for clients and the largesse he arranged for lawmakers.

The Associated Press asked Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), head of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, whether he would commit to investigate ethical wrongdoing if, as expected, the information Abramoff supplies in a plea agreement exposes misconduct by a number of members of Congress. He declined, through his spokesmen, to do so.

The AP also asked the top Democrat on the committee, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia. He also declined -- although, as a member of the minority party, Mollohan is not in a position to launch an official investigation without support from committee Republicans.

"There have always been questions about whether Congress can police itself," said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in ethics. "The situation in the House removes all doubt. The House is not policing itself."

***

Why the lack of self-policing? Here's something to chew on:

In 2004, the House committee admonished then Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on three separate issues. The House Republican leadership reacted by refusing to extend the term of the chairman at that time, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO).

The House committee launched no investigations in 2005. Instead, Hastings and Mollohan feuded over investigative rules, and then over the composition of the staff. The entire year was gone before the leaders finally chose the committee's top staff member.

It's not far-fetched to believe that Hastings, the Republican, was looking to minimize investigating members of his own party, starting with DeLay, while Mollohan sought to pursue such investigations. The result? Inaction.

Former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican who served on the Senate ethics committee, said, "The amount of politics that intruded into the House committee is discouraging."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pentagon Conducting Two-Pronged Blog Attack To Spread "Good News" About Iraq

The U.S. Army has hired public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee to do outreach to pro-military bloggers, according to a Jan. 10 article in trade publication O'Dwyer's Public Relations News.

"The blogs are viewed as a way to distribute 'good news' about Iraq," the managing director of the firm's Detroit office told O'Dwyer's.

Blogger Donald Sensing accepted the offer, saying, "I spent long enough in Army Public Affairs to know when I'm being fed baloney. ... I predict the [Washington] Post and others of the dinosaur media will ... say we are biased, as if they are not. ... I am biased, I freely admit."

The effort coincides with news that the Pentagon is shutting down some military blogs that it says reveal too much information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As reported by JABBS and others, the Pentagon's action has drawn criticism from soldiers and others who say the military's real goal is to silence or sanitize blogs that reveal the truth about daily life fighting the wars.

"The ones that stay up are completely patriotic and innocuous, and they're fine if you want to read the flag-waving and how everything's peachy keen in Iraq," New York Army National Guard Spc. Jason Christopher Hartley, who was demoted from sergeant and fined because of information on his blog, told Newsday.

The military's reasoning is "loose lips sink ships," and no doubt the military works under rules that the average American does not. But while the military worries about what messages are being sent by its soldiers' blogs, it should also consider what message it sends when it advocates censorship and propaganda.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Should Bush Have Allowed Warrantless Domestic Surveillance? "Maybe That's Part Of The Job," Says Matthews

During the Jan. 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews seemed not to understand why President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program is illegal.

Matthews was speaking with Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency employee who has stated he is one of the sources for the Dec. 16 New York Times article that revealed the program.

Perhaps Matthews' questions were meant to be thought-provoking, but it seems -- on multiple occasions -- that he is actually trying to justify the illegal program.

Here are key parts of the interview:

MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with the United States spooking, spying, tapping al Qaeda contacts, people on the telephone with al Qaeda around the world?

TICE: Nothing is wrong with that and the mechanism to do that is the FISA court. You know, once you have an associated number and you can pin it with a name or a number here in the states, it‘s easy to find out the name and address and pretty much all the billing information.

MATTHEWS: Why is it wrong to do global data mining and say anybody who is talking to somebody in the Emirates, for example, or anybody in Saudi is on the phone talking about physical targets in New York, like the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel, words like that jump off the electronic wires. What‘s wrong with trying to figure out what those people are talking about?

TICE: If it‘s being conducted over overseas, there‘s nothing wrong with that. That‘s perfectly normal.

MATTHEWS: ... Do you have any evidence that we‘re spying on regular, you know, just regular political Americans, who may have views on all kinds of things? Or are we limiting it to people who are actually engaged in conversations or e-mailing with people in highly-suspicious situations in the Mideast?

TICE: I can‘t say one way or the other and I can‘t go into the details of how NSA does their business, it would be classified. But the question arises, why would you do this beyond the FISA Court?

After this line of questioning, Matthews offers how, as president, he would rationalize the illegal program.

MATTHEWS: ... We‘re under attack on 9/11. A couple of days after that, if I were president of the United States and somebody said we had the ability to check on all the conversations going on between here and Hamburg, Germany, where all the al Qaeda people are or somewhere in Saudi, where they came from and their parents are, and we could mine some of that information by just looking for some key words like World Trade Center or Pentagon, I‘d do it.

TICE: Well, you‘d be breaking the law.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, maybe that‘s part of the job.

After this startling revelation, Matthews repeats the administration spin that Bush did nothing wrong, and that the real problem lies with people like Tice, who exposed the surveillance program. Tice, thankfully, doesn't mince words in his response:

MATTHEWS: ... The president of the United States did not want the American people to know what he was doing. And he‘s saying that those people exposed what he was doing are shameful.

TICE: It‘s shameful for people to report a crime? Ultimately that‘s what happened. A crime was committed, it was reported. You know, you can put a blanket security clearance on anything or call it super top-secret, but nonetheless, a crime is a crime and that‘s what was reported here.

Gonzales To Testify About Bush's Warrantless Domestic Spying Program

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is scheduled to testify next month before the Senate on the Bush Administration's warrantless domestic spying program.

"The attorney general is planning to testify on the NSA (National Security Agency) activities recently described by the president," a Justice Department official said.

According to President Bush's Dec. 17 radio address, it was Gonzales, as White House counsel, who personally approved the surveillance program.

There are no shortage of conservatives and Republicans voicing concern over the seemingly illegal program. George Will called Bush's actions a mistake. William Safire said he sided with Bush's critics. At least 11 Republican Senators have questioned the policy.

Some conservative observers have actually suggested Bush's personally authorizing the surveillance was an impeachable offense. The program circumvented rules that say the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

Some key questions that should be asked of Gonzales:

-- How can Gonzales justify a program clearly in violation of existing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

-- Was it wrong for President Bush to lie on at least three occasions last year about circumventing the law?

-- Did Gonzales mislead the Senate during his confirmation hearings last year, when he said "(T)he president is not above the law. Of course he’s not above the law"?

-- During the same hearing, did Gonzales mislead the Senate when he said, "(I)t is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes"?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Savage, Limbaugh Use "Theater Of The Absurd" To Rant Against Liberals

Anti-liberal radio host Michael Savage created a mythical liberal straw man tonight for his listeners.

Savage plucked two seemingly apolitical stories off the wires in order to set up a rant against three "libs" -- Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

It was theater of the absurd. Here's a brief synopsis of each. (As I didn't tape the show, I paraphrased what Savage said in italics):

THE CASE OF THE FLYING SHRIMP

The family of a deceased man is suing the Benihana restaurant chain, claiming the man died from a series of events starting when he ducked to avoid a flying shrimp piece tossed by a hibachi chef. According to the family's lawyer, the man later needed neck surgery, developed an infection, and died.

Savage followed by essentially saying the man's family had no case against Benihana (for the record, I agree, based on the information given.)

But if Kennedy, Feinstein and Schumer had their say, the family would probably win their case. I'm surprised they didn't starting asking Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito whether he would side with the shrimp or with the dead man, Savage bemoaned.

THE CASE OF THE OILY HANDS

A prisoner enters a courtroom, opens a bottle, and rubs his hands with the bottle's unidentifed contents. He then shakes hands with three courtroom officials, who later get sick.

The man claims the liquid was olive oil, but no one is buying it. But these three libs would probably side with the prisoner, Savage exclaims.

"Do you now see what we're dealing with, with these libs?" Savage asked his listeners.

But what are we dealing with in this theater of the absurd that passes for anti-liberal talk radio? Two essentially fake tales of the burden created by having Kennedy, Feinstein and Schumer in the Senate.

Creating a mythical liberal straw man is a common trick among anti-liberal radio hosts.

One recent example of this, as related earlier on JABBS, came a few weeks ago, when Rush Limbaugh offered his own theater of the absurd:

THE CASE OF THE DEAD SEATTLE MAN

Limbaugh related a story about a suburban Seattle man who was dead on arrival at an area hospital's emergency room. He had a knapsack, in which there were homemade video tapes showing the man engaging in bestiality.

Limbaugh related the story over several minutes because he thought it was funny. But he also wanted to use it as a platform for building the mythical liberal straw man.

After finishing the anecdote, Limbaugh segued into wondering aloud -- assuming on behalf of his audience -- that the man and his friends were liberals.

Why turn the apolitical into an anti-liberal statement? To link bestiality with liberalism -- much the same way Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and other conservatives suggest that those who support gay marriage today will support marriage between man and beast tomorrow.

Just typing it out I'm amazed that this stupidity passes for anti-liberal talk radio.

Let's hope that the roughly 22 milion people who listen to Savage or Limbaugh daily -- more people than the number watching the nightly news on ABC, CBS and NBC nightly -- are smart enough to recognize theater of the absurd when they hear it.

Hannity, During Testy Radio Interview, Implies Bremer Is Disloyal To Bush Administration

Conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity defined "party before country" on his radio broadcast yesterday.

During an interview with Paul Bremer, former head of the Coaliation Provisional Authority, on his new book, My Year In Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (co-written with Malcolm McConnell), Hannity took great offense to Bremer's suggestion that he believed there should be more troops in Iraq. (A similar discussion was scheduled to occur on last night's Hannity & Colmes, on Fox News Channel.)

While Hannity didn't call Bremer a liar, he made several statements that implied Bremer was somehow a traitor -- not to the country, but to the Bush Administration -- to publicize his dissent against President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It was as if Hannity was saying, "How dare you turn against your fellow Republicans!"

The interview took the form of Hannity offering a reason Bremer shouldn't have written the book or spoken out against the administration, and Bremer -- who sounded as if he was not prepared for such a testy exchange -- defending himself by saying his account was truthful, and that he remained a loyal Republican, Bush supporter and in favor of the war.

Some of the highlights:

HANNITY: MOUTHPIECE FOR THE ADMINISTRATION?

Hannity said he spoke with a senior Bush Administration official, who told Hannity that Bremer wanted to "revise history." If Bremer believed there weren't enough troops, why didn't he say so at the time.

Bremer replied that he did relate his feelings in multiple conversations with Bush, and via e-mail with Rumsfeld. He said that he didn't feel it was right to air his concerns via the media. (His first public statement on the matter came in October, 2004 -- four months after he left his position.)

Hannity then asked, more than once, how it was that Bush could publicly say that he offered to provide whatever the Pentagon wanted, and yet the Pentagon never asked for more troops.

Bremer said that Bush had a choice: listen to the Pentagon, or listen to him. Bush chose to listen to the Pentagon. But that didn't mean Bremer didn't offer his opinion.

HANNITY: IS BREMER AIDING THE ENEMY (ER ... LIBERALS)?

Hannity suggested that it might be wrong for Bremer to write the book now -- while the war was ongoing -- because it would "give the liberals and the anti-war critics" another reason to rally against the war, or the administration's management of it.

"Can't you see how?" Hannity offered multiple times.

But Bremer retorted that it was foolish to lump him in with anti-war critics, since he remains a friend of Bush and a supporter of the Iraq policy.

Hannity, not fazed, added that it might have been better for Bremer to write a "history book" -- many, many years in the future.

***

Is Bremer telling the truth in his new book? JABBS has no way of knowing.

What is known, though is that Bremer's public statements of "truth" today don't match his public statements of "truth" in 2003. It's very possible that Bremer talked to Bush and e-mailed Rumsfeld with his concerns.

But given the contradiction in public statements, either Bremer was spinning Bush talking points in 2003, or he's trying to cover his rear now. Take your pick which is worse.

For example, Bremer may have quietly said that then that there was a lack of troops. Publicly, he had this exchange during a July, 2003, briefing:

JOHN NEEDHAM (LOS ANGELES TIMES): You said all week that security is a primary concern of yours and Sergio DiMayo echoed that the other day in his report to the Security Council. Is the current troops strength adequate to produce the security that you’ll think is need now?

BREMER: Yeah I think it is. We’re doing basically three things now and over the next 60 days to improve security. One of them is to reconfigure our troop profile there as John Abizaid announced over the weekend. Basically the general concept is to get to – get away from heavy forces towards lighter more mobile force, forces which have Special Operation skills.

And while Bremer is now saying the U.S. didn't predict an insurgency, in July, 2003, he told Tony Snow of Fox News Sunday something quite different:

Q: Do you think that some of Saddam’s forces already had plans for opposition, even before the war began, and that they prepositioned personnel and weaponry before the war?

BREMER: Well, it’s possible. There has been some evidence of planning for the possibility of losing the war militarily and going into some kind of insurgency or organized resistance. We certainly are seeing now organized resistance at small level, squad level organized resistance by professional killers. These are guys who are trained soldiers. It's not a massive uprising by disgruntled factory workers. These are professional killers -- members of the Fedayeen Saddam, Baathists, former members of the Republican Guard. But it's important to remember that these attacks are in a very small area of the country, a country which was traditionally Saddam's area of support, and they pose no strategic threat to us. We will overpower them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Audience Growing For Radio Clown Mark Levin

WMAL-AM Washington and WJR-AM Detroit have added radio clown Mark Levin to their weeknight line-ups.

News like this is particularly frustrating for those of us fighting the conservative noise machine.

Levin now offers his unique mix of fact-challenged "angry right" radio (here, here or here) on four sister stations. The others are WABC-AM New York, as well as WBAP-AM Dallas.

"Could a syndicated rollout by ABC be in Levin's future?" asks Al Peterson, a columnist with Radioandrecords.com.

If truth matters, then the answer should be "no."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lobbying Firm With Ties To DeLay, Abramoff To Shut Down

The Alexander Strategy Group, a firm with “links to no fewer than three of the scandals” hitting Washington, will shut its doors at month’s end.

The lobbying firm had thrived since its founding in 1998 thanks largely to its close connections to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). Edwin A. Buckham, the former top DeLay aide who owns the company, confirmed the firm's future with the Washington Post.

Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, for four years. It also benefited by working closely with Abramoff. Abramoff's plea agreement mentioned his close ties to Tony Rudy, one of Buckham's colleagues at ASG, identified in the court papers as "Staffer A."

Rudy, a former DeLay aide, worked for Abramoff before joining ASG. According to the plea document, a political consulting firm run by Rudy's wife allegedly received $50,000 in exchange for official actions Rudy took while working for DeLay.

A senior ASG employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, estimated that up to 50 percent of the firm's clients probably would have abandoned the firm soon because of adverse publicity about the continuing investigations involving Rudy and Buckham.

The 12 lobbyists who now work at ASG -- other than Rudy and Buckham -- apparently intend to start a successor firm, to serve former ASG clients.

***

A little side note for JABBS readers. I know Tony Rudy. He -- along with Brian Darling, an aide to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who was outed as the author of the memo suggesting that Republicans use the Terri Schiavo tragedy for political gain -- were one-half of a quartet that led the conservatives in the University of Massachusetts student government in the late 1980s.

Things might have been more innocent in those days. I remember arguing with Tony, Brian and their colleagues about all things Reagan. But basically, I remember them as being fun, smart guys who happily wasted time in the campus center arcade, and weren't against getting a beer.

Even then, we were rivals. In addition to their work in student government, Tony and Brian helped launch a conservative rag, The Minuteman, which had a not-always-friendly rivalry with the newspaper I helped edit, The Daily Collegian.

Now, some 17 years later, Tony Rudy and Brian Darling have become tragic heroes for the conservative noise machine. And I continue to fight it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Presidential Historians Suggest Bush Has Tough Road Ahead Convincing Congress, American People That Domestic Spying Program Was Not Abuse Of Power

During the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson pushed anti sedition laws. In World War II Franklin Roosevelt interned thousands of Japanese Americans.

Now President Bush says, "We're at war and as the commander in chief I've got to use the resources at my disposal."

But is the National Security Agency a resource at his disposal for monitoring the phone conversations of suspected terrorists, even if one end of the call is here in this country?

That's the question Charles Osgood asked this morning on his daily syndicated radio segment, The Osgood File. He spoke with presidential historians James Thurber and Julian Zelizer, as well as long-time political strategist David Gergen, a pro with Democrat and Republican administrations and by default an amateur historian of recent presidential activity.

Their conclusion? President Bush may have to do a lot of campaigning -- both among Congress and the American people -- to convince people that his decision was not an example of exceeding his constitutional powers. Some observers have suggested Bush's personally authorizing the warrant-less domesitc surveillance was an impeachable offense.

With Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt, "there was a pushback by the American public through the press but also by Congress and that is likely to happen this time," said Thurber.

Added Zelizer: "Every time we go to war the tension between the president and congress flares. We have hit a point where Congress is very much trying to reassert itself and much less willing to give the president excessive power."

As an aid to Presidents Republican and Democrat David Gergen has seen the effects of such issues on administrations past. "It could be a real obstacle for President Bush in terms of trying to recover as president," he said. "He may be on the defensive much longer than he would like."

No Shortage Of Republican Senators Questioning Bush's Domestic Spying Program

The conservative noise machine is trying to paint the debate over President Bush's warrant-less domestic spying program as a battle between right and left -- or as they would falsely characterize it, right and wrong.

Listen to conservative talk radio, and you get the impression that this battle places a tough war president placing homeland security needs first against anti-American wussies who care more about the rights of terrorists, and would gladly say so as they discuss Brokeback Mountain with their ACLU-card carrying friends.

If the world were so simplistic and stereotypical, then maybe the empty conservative spin would have merit. But in the reality-based universe, facts matter.

There are no shortage of conservatives and Republicans voicing concern over the seemingly illegal program. George Will called Bush's actions a mistake. William Safire said he sided with Bush's critics.

Some conservative observers have actually suggested Bush's personally authorizing the surveillance was an impeachable offense. The program circumvented rules that say the National Security Agency must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

In the Senate, you won't find a Republican publicly mentioning the dreaded "I" word. But that doesn't mean that there aren't a host of Republicans questioning the president's decision to skirt the law -- enough of them, in fact, that a serious discussion about impeachment may be possible.

That list includes Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, as well as Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, Larry Craig of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Dick Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

That's quite a list.

And add to it Sam Brownback of Kansas, who told George Stephanopoulos on the Jan. 8 edition of ABC's This Week:

BROWNBACK: I think we need to look at this case and this issue. I am troubled by what the basis for the grounds that the administration says that they did these on, the legal basis, and I think we need to look at that far more broadly and understand it a great deal. I think this is something that bears looking into and us to be able to establish a policy within constitutional frameworks of what a president can or cannot do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't think the 9/11 resolution gave the president the authority for this program?

BROWNBACK: It didn't, in my vote. I voted for that resolution. That was a week after 9/11. There was nothing you were going to do to stop us from going to war in Afghanistan, but there was no discussion in anything that I was around that that gave the president a broad surveillance authority with that resolution.

If 11 Republicans aren't satisfied by the answers to their questions about the spying program -- if they aren't given sufficient reason to conclude the president has the authority to conduct warrant-less domestic spying, and that thus the program is legal -- then isn't it possible they could join, say, 40 Democrats (out of 44, plus one Independent) and call for impeachment hearings?

It's probably far-fetched to talk that way. Questions -- even insufficiently unanswered ones -- don't necessarily push someone to try to take down their party's leader.

Still, as Hagel said in an article in the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, "No president is ever above the law. ... We are a nation of laws. You cannot avoid or dismiss a law."

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